Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Assistant Professor
Department of Architecture and Planning
NED University of Engineering and Technology
TOPIC:                                     ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM

Electricity distribution is the final stage in the delivery (before retail) of electricity to end users. A distribution system's network carries electricity from the transmission system and delivers it to consumers. Typically, the network would include medium-voltage (less than 50 kV) power lines, electrical substations and pole-mounted transformers, low-voltage (less than 1 kV) distribution wiring and sometimes electricity meters.

The modern distribution system begins as the primary circuit leaves the sub-station and ends as the secondary service enters the customer's meter socket. A variety of methods, materials, and equipment are used among the various utility companies, but the end result is similar. First, the energy leaves the sub-station in a primary circuit, usually with all three phases. The actual attachment (electrical service or service drop) to a building varies in different parts of the world. Electrical service can be provided directly from the utility company's transformer or though service laterals. Most areas provide three phase industrial service. There is no substitute for three-phase service to run heavy industrial equipment. A ground is normally provided, connected to conductive cases and other safety equipment, to keep current away from equipment and people. Distribution voltages vary depending on customer need, equipment and availability. Delivered voltage is usually constructed using stock transformers and either the voltage difference between phase and neutral or the voltage difference from phase to phase. In many areas, "delta" three phase service is common. Delta service has no distributed neutral wire and is therefore less expensive. The three coils in the generator rotor are in series, in a loop, with the connections made at the three joints between the coils. Ground is provided as a low resistance earth ground, sometimes attached to a synthetic ground made by a transformer in a substation. High frequency noise (like that made by arc furnaces) can sometimes cause transients on a synthetic ground. In North America and Latin America, three phase service is often a Y (wye) in which the neutral is directly connected to the center of the generator rotor. Wye service resists transients better than delta, since the distributed neutral provides a low-resistance metallic return to the generator. Wye service is recognizable when a line has four conductors, one of which is lightly insulated. Three-phase wye service is excellent for motors and heavy power use. Many areas in the world use single phase 220 V or 230 V residential and light industrial service. In this system, a high voltage distribution network supplies a few substations per city, and the 230V power from each substation is directly distributed. A hot wire and neutral are connected to the building from one phase of three phase service. Single-phase distribution is used where motor loads are small. In the U.S. and parts of Canada and Latin America, split phase service is the most common. Split phase provides both 120 V and 240 V service with only three wires. Split phase has substations that provide intermediate voltage. The house voltages are provided by neighborhood transformers that lower the voltage of a phase of the distributed three-phase. The neutral is directly connected to the three-phase neutral. Socket voltages are only 120 V, but 240 V is available for heavy appliances because the two halves of a phase oppose each other.[2] Japan has a large number of small industrial manufacturers, and therefore supplies standard low-voltage three phase-services in many suburbs. Also, Japan normally supplies residential service as two phases of a three phase service, with a neutral. These work well for both lighting and motors. Rural services normally try to minimize the number of poles and wires. Single-wire earth return (SWER) is the least expensive, with one wire. It uses high voltages, which in turn permit use of galvanized steel wire. The strong steel wire permits inexpensive wide pole spacing’s. Other areas use high voltage split-phase or three phase service at higher cost. Electricity meters use different metering equations depending on the form of electrical service. Since the math differs from service to service, the number of conductors and sensors in the meters also vary. Besides referring to the physical wiring, the term electrical service also refers in an abstract sense to the provision of electricity to a building.

In the early days of electricity distribution, direct current (DC) generators were connected to loads at the same voltage. The generation, transmission and loads had to be of the same voltage because there was no way of changing DC voltage levels, other than inefficient motor-generator sets. Low DC voltages were used (on the order of 100 volts) since that was a practical voltage for incandescent lamps, which were the primary electrical load. Low voltage also required less insulation for safe distribution within buildings. The losses in a cable are proportional to the square of the current, the length of the cable, and the resistivity of the material, and are inversely proportional to cross-sectional area. Early transmission networks used copper, which is one of the best economically feasible conductors for this application. To reduce the current and copper required for a given quantity of power transmitted would require a higher transmission voltage, but no efficient method existed to change the voltage of DC power circuits. To keep losses to an economically practical level the Edison DC system needed thick cables and local generators. Early DC generating plants needed to be within about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the farthest customer to avoid excessively large and expensive conductors.

The adoption of alternating current (AC) for electricity generation following the War of Currents dramatically changed the situation. Power transformers, installed at power stations, could be used to raise the voltage from the generators, and transformers at local substations could reduce voltage to supply loads. Increasing the voltage reduced the current in the transmission and distribution lines and hence the size of conductors and distribution losses. This made it more economical to distribute power over long distances. Generators (such as hydroelectric sites) could be located far from the loads. While power electronics now allow for conversion between DC voltage levels, AC is still used in distribution due to the economy, efficiency and reliability of transformers. High-voltage DC is used for transmission of large blocks of power over long distances, or for interconnecting adjacent AC networks, but not for distribution to customers.


Distribution networks are typically of two types, radial or interconnected. A radial network leaves the station and passes through the network area with no normal connection to any other supply. This is typical of long rural lines with isolated load areas. An interconnected network is generally found in more urban areas and will have multiple connections to other points of supply. These points of connection are normally open but allow various configurations by the operating utility by closing and opening switches. Operation of these switches may be by remote control from a control center or by a lineman.

The benefit of the interconnected model is that in the event of a fault or required maintenance a small area of network can be isolated and the remainder kept on supply. Within these networks there may be a mix of overhead line construction utilizing traditional utility poles and wires and, increasingly, underground construction with cables and indoor or cabinet substations. However, underground distribution is significantly more expensive than overhead construction. In part to reduce this cost, underground power lines are sometimes co-located with other utility lines in what are called common utility ducts. Distribution feeders emanating from a substation are generally controlled by a circuit breaker which will open when a fault is detected. Automatic circuit re-closers may be installed to further segregate the feeder thus minimizing the impact of faults. Long feeders experience voltage drop requiring capacitors or voltage regulators to be installed. Characteristics of the supply given to customers are generally mandated by contract between the supplier and customer. Variables of the supply include:

  • AC or DC - Virtually all public electricity supplies are AC today. Users of large amounts of DC power such as some electric railways, telephone exchanges and industrial processes such as aluminium smelting usually either operate their own or have adjacent dedicated generating equipment, or use rectifiers to derive DC from the public AC supply
  • Voltage, including tolerance (usually +10 or -15 percent)
  • Frequency, commonly 50 or 60 Hz, 16.6 Hz for some railways and, in a few older industrial and mining locations, 25 Hz.[2]
  • Phase configuration (single phase, polyphase including two-phase and three phase)
  • Maximum demand (usually measured as the largest amount of power delivered within a 15 or 30 minute period during a billing period)
  • Load factor, expressed as a ratio of average load to peak load over a period of time. Load factor indicates the degree of effective utilization of equipment (and capital investment) of distribution line or system.
  • Power factor of connected load
  • Earthing arrangements - TT, TN-S, TN-C-S or TN-C
  • Prospective short circuit current
  • Maximum level and frequency of occurrence of transients
Traditionally the electricity industry has been a publicly owned institution but starting in the 1970s nations began the process of deregulation and privatisation, leading to electricity markets. A major focus of these was the elimination of the former so called natural monopoly of generation, transmission, and distribution. As a consequence, electricity has become more of a commodity. The separation has also led to the development of new terminology to describe the business units (e.g., line company, wires business and network company).  

[1] ELECTRIC POWER DISTRIBUTION; From: (Retrieved April 20, 2011)
[2] Brown, R. E., Electric Power Distribution Reliability, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2002.